UC Davis – Civil Disobedience, Pepper Spray, and Response

Posted: November 19, 2011 by Mike Larsen in Policing's New Visibility

Today, police armed with pepper spray, batons, and chemical paintball weapons attempted to arrest nonviolent student demonstrators staging an occupation on the grounds of UC Davis. The casual use of force shown here is quite revealing.

In response, students – again, nonviolent – confront the police with calls of ‘shame!’ and begin to push them back, off the UC Davis quad. At one point, they inform the police that they will be given a moment of peace in order to gather their weapons and leave. Eventually, this happens.

This film is an important example of the power of organized civil disobedience and the role of new forms of visibility in policing of police. Note the multitude of cameras.

Commentary from BoingBoing:

At UC Davis today, students inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement sat down on the grass in an open area of the school campus. In the video above, you can see a police officer walk past a group of these young people who are seated quietly on the ground in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. He walks down the line, and sprays them all with pepper spray, at close range. It’s as if he’s exterminating a row of sleeping bugs with bug spray

In the comment thread following the BoingBoing post, a common – but important – discussion is unfolding. Some participants, while expressing dismay at the police actions here, say that the police should be excused because they are ‘just doing their jobs’, and therefore cannot be blamed. Other participants claim that indeed they can and should be blamed – and held accountable – for these actions, and that ‘duty’ is not an excuse.

To my students: I encourage you to weigh in on this discussion, and to comment on this video more generally. You can post comments to this entry.

  1. napatreez says:

    Wow, this is very shocking and closely related to Vancouver 1997 APEC Summit that happen on the University of British Columbia grounds (can be searched on blog).

    Hmm, those actions of the police in the video were definitely out of the ordinary… I wonder why they reacted in the way they did, since the students were no threat and just sitting there without weapons. There shouldn’t have been any pepper spray used against the students. Ive noticed the police are dressed in a way that is very intimidating and almost war like ie) Police VS Students. I seem to get idea that it looks as if they are itching to use their paintball guns and pepper-spray but really cant because of all the video recording equipment the students are using. That being said if there was no video recording equipment do you think the police would have acted differently? Maybe even more aggressive? Or could there have been some special orders given to the police like in the 1997 APEC Summit. If there was some kind of influence on the police and their actions at the University of California, Davis, it would be corruption of state domination for example if a political leader said use excessive force on the students, and would go against the idea of police independence!

  2. kimberley1 says:

    A few days after his arrest Captain Ray Lewis is welcomed back to the Occupy Wall-street Protest with handshakes.

  3. gcheema says:

    Even though I am strongly aganist the “Occupy Movement,” the police officers did not use good judgement in employing the pepper spray. The protesters were clearly warned that they would be “subject to force” if they did not move. However, the use of pepper spray was unnecessary. The protesters were not being violent; they were just using their right to free speech, and assembly. If was the police was so keen on removing the protesters they should have waited. Using pepper spray to diffuse the situation clearly did not work; it made the situation much worse. As you can see in the original video, the crowd gets agitated and shouts “shame” towards the police officers. This kind of behaviour by the police is detremental towards policing. This is espically true in the era of social media. Once a video is put online, the whole world is watching. One can only imagine how the police would have acted if the cameras were not there.

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